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Costa Rica: Puntarenas – Drake Bay

Bahía Drake is a small bay on the north side of the Osa Peninsula on the coast of southwestern Costa Rica. This bay is believed to be a port used by Sir Francis Drake during his raids on the Spanish Main in the 16th century and the location of one of the British pirate’s fabled hidden treasures.

This small community is set in largest, most biologically diverse section of lowland rainforest in Central America, bordering on the edge of the incredible Corcovado Peninsula. This is a remote location and does not see the number of tourists that other parts of Costa Rica receive. The reason is that getting to most parts of the Osa Peninsula is an adventure in itself – see the getting here section below!

Apart from the town of Puerto Jimenez on the eastern side, population centres on the Osa Peninsula are comprised of only small towns and villages spread out among bountiful rainforests and mangroves.

The village of Drake Bay sits on the Pacific side of the peninsula but is well protected from ocean swells due to its position in a wide cove.

Just off the town’s main beach, Playa Colorada, are a handful of tourism businesses, including small restaurants, lodges, and a few municipal buildings like a school and medical clinic. Other accommodations are spread out along the coast in either direction or nestled into the hills. Some of these are accessible by only a jungle trail or short boat ride.

We stayed in a small hotel, called Bella Vista, a few miles south of Drake Bay village, but getting there by road was not easy. A boat was the most efficient way to get between the two.

Drake Bay is a ‘get away from it all location’ and a great place to relax. You still might want to check out some of the area’s attractions. Below are some ideas of things to do during your visit.

The beautiful beaches of the Osa Penninsula
Late afternoon sun on the water of Drake Bay

1. CANO ISLAND SNORKELLING

Costa Rica is not renowned as a snorkelling or diving destination, but Cano Island, just off the shore of Drake Bay, is one of the best locations in Costa Rica for these activities. It is a short half-hour boat ride to the protected waters of this island. There are a number of boat operators who offer tours here. We spent a couple of hours snorkelling, seeing small shoals of fish and a sea turtle. On the way back we were taken to a lovely beach on the mainland and treated to tasty lunch.

2. CORCOVADO TOURS

Drake Bay sits on the edge of the stunning Corcovado National Park, which has an abundance of wildlife and is the best place to see tapirs in Costa Rica. In our opinion, it is the best of the National Parks in Costa Rica! 

From Drake Bay, you have options of doing a full-day tour, an overnight tour at the Sirena Ranger Station or a 3-day/2-night tour deep into the Corcovado.

3. NIGHT TOUR

The rainforests of the Corcovado are incredible during the day but visiting at night is a whole different experience and a chance to see creatures that you would not see during the daylight hours, including a host of amphibians and insects, such as spiders!

4. CATCH THE SUNSETS

The nice thing about being on the west coast of Costa Rica is that you get amazing sunsets. We had some amazing ones and were in prime position from the restaurant of the Bella Vista.

Sunset from the restaurant deck of the Bella Vista on Drake Bay

Planning your visit to Drake Bay

Getting to Drake Bay

Driving 

While you can in theory drive to Drake Bay in the dry season I would not recommend it even in a 4×4 as the roads are rough and there are river crossings. In all likelihood, your rental car terms do not cover river crossings! Also, while you are in Drake Bay you won’t need a car. We parked our rental car in Sierpe and took the boat out to Drake Bay. We travelled on Christmas Day, so the boats run all year (unless there is a weather issue).

By Boat Taxi

A boat taxi is definitely the best way to reach Drake Bay – it is a fun experience in its own right. The boats for Drake Bay depart from the tiny town of Sierpe.

If like us, you travel in a rental car there is a secure parking lot that costs $6/night, just down the road from the dock area.

The trip takes about an hour and costs $15-$25 per person. Boat taxis leave the docks in Sierpe twice daily, at 11:30 a.m. ($15) and 3:30 p.m. ($25).

Right next to the dock is a restaurant which is a great place to hang out if you arrive early for your boat.

The boats are about 20 feet long, but they pack a lot of people (& luggage) in. So, it can be quite a squeeze. It is not just tourists who use these boats, it is also used by locals to travel between Drake Bay and Sierpe.

The first part of the journey heads down the river through the mangrove forests. This is not a casual pootle down the river, the boat picks up speeds quickly. Turning into the bends in the river was thrilling!

The most exciting part of the journey is when the boat leaves the river estuary and heads out onto the open ocean. The water can be choppy as the boat clips the waves – great fun. About half the trip is out on the open sea – which on a sunny day is stunning. 

On reaching your destination you will find there are no docks. You will have to go over the side of the boat and wade your way through knee-deep water onto the beach, carrying your bags with you. Our bags were heavy, so it was a little unnerving hauling them to shore, fearful of dropping them into the sea!

Note there are no banks or ATM machines in Drake Bay and many businesses don’t accept credit cards, so be sure to stock up on cash before you arrive.

Best time to visit Drake Bay

The best time to visit the Osa Peninsula is during the dry season, which runs from January through April when the weather is reliably sunny and there is little to no rainfall. During the green season (May through August) afternoon showers are common, but you will get the best value for your money, as lodges drop their rates significantly. Avoid September and October as most of the lodgings are closed during these two rainiest months of the year.

Where to stay in Drake Bay

1. BELLA VISTA CORCOVADO

We stayed at the Bella Vista which was a few miles down the coast from Drake village. Our arrival was by boat and we had a ‘wet’ landing on the beach, where we were greeted by one of the family who own the hotel.
The property is located on the hills above the beach, and the only way to get there was by a steep and very potholed road. Luckily, one of the other family members turned up with a motorbike and strapped our bags onto the back of it and headed away! Even without our bags, it was still a hike up the hill.
 
The accommodation was quite rustic. We were in a small duplex chalet on some grazing land, complete with farm animals. Bug spray was a must. There is no air conditioning here so it was sticky and warm at night. 
 
The best thing about the Bella Vista is the bar-come-restaurant which had the most amazing views across the bay. It was a wonderful place to watch the sun go down.
 
The family who run the place were amazing. We don’t speak much Spanish and their English was not great, but still, we worked things out and they could not have been friendlier or more helpful. We had arranged tours during our stay but we hadn’t realised how far or how difficult it was to get back to the main village of Drake. Fortunately, they were able to find us spaces on a boat to Cano Island at very short notice.
 

2. COPA DE ARBOL BEACH AND RAINFOREST RESORT

Offering charming cabins with terraces looking onto the surrounding rainforest, this eco-friendly resort is on Drake Bay, 300 feet from the beach. Copa De Arbol Beach & Rainforest Resort features an open-air restaurant.

Each attractive cabin at Copa De Arbol Beach & Rainforest Resort is constructed from recycled teak, cypress and Melina wood. All cabins feature bright décor, high ceilings, air conditioning, free Wi-Fi and a private bathroom.

The Copa De Arbol’s beachfront restaurant serves local seafood and meat dishes. Costa Rican coffee and cocktails are also available. The resort serves healthy cuisine, and special diet and vegetarian menus are available upon request.

3. CABAÑA ARA MACAO LODGE

Located in Drake in the Puntarenas region, with Colorada nearby, Cabaña Ara Macao Lodge has accommodations with free WiFi and free private parking.

There’s also a kitchen in some of the units equipped with a fridge and a toaster.

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